What does an ancient rainforest in Kedah have to do with Penang’s water supply? Ulu Muda is a rainforest dating back 150-170 million years, and at twice the size of Singapore, it stretches from the Malaysian border with Thailand at Yala to Baling in the north of Perak. Its three lakes and dams are drawn on extensively to provide irrigation for Malaysia’s paddy fields.

Four million people in three Malaysian states, including Penang are highly reliant on this water catchment area for their water supply. The Penang Water Supply Authority (PBAPP) was shocked back in 2016 when it first became aware of the extent of the destruction of the forest reserves, stating that this could threaten the water supply for more than two million citizens, businesses and paddy farmers here.

But its critical function as a water catchment area is being threatened by illegal logging which is reducing both the quality and the quantity of water. Environmental activist Hymeir Kamarudin, who used to work for the World Wild Fund for Nature Malaysia and now runs an ecolodge within the Ulu Muda Forest is involved in a campaign to protect the Forest Reserve, both from illegal logging activities but also from poaching. The reserve is one of the few places in Malaysia where elephants, spotted leopards and all ten Malaysian hornbill species can be found.

At his talk on March 3rd, Hymeir will explain how logging affects the water quality as fewer trees increases the rate of run-off of soil into the river, filling the waterways with sediment. Trees absorb and retain rainwater in their branches, trunks, roots and leaves, which then “drip feeds” the streams and rivers over a period of time. When too many are cut down flash floods and landslides occur, as we have seen in recent months in Penang. Forests also affect the weather: the moisture around them forms clouds which later dispense rain, so uncontrolled logging can lead to longer droughts and higher temperatures.

Yet according to a recently published (January 2018) study by Kedah Forestry Department, logging has no impact on the environment in the Ulu Muda Forest Reserve. They report that after each instance of legal logging they check the water supply for quality, and they fine illegal loggers (of which there were thirty instances during 2018).

Come and learn more about the controversy! The talk takes place at the Tropical Spice Garden in Teluk Bahang on Saturday March 3rd 2018 from 10am until 12pm, adults RM 29, students RM 23. You can register by emailing to register education@tropicalspicegarden.com or call 0124988797.